WWF's Conservation Innovation Awards

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ESPcat (Electric Solar Powered Catamaran)

I am building a prototype, solar powered, floating classroom called the ESPcat (Electric Solar Powered Catamaran.  I plan to change the world by replacing the fuel guzzling, noisy, polluting, power boats by demonstrating the advantages of solar powered boats.  In addition, ESPcat will act as a floating classroom where students can learn all about he fabulous Hauraki Gulf's marine environment.  

What conservation problem are you trying to solve?

Too many people don't appreciate the marine environment of the Hauraki Gulf.  People see the water's surface and that is all.  We need to protect the Hauraki Gulf and the creatures in it by teaching solar powered sustainability and marine ecology.  We want to encourage the next generation to become experts on our marine environment by studying water quality and all aspects of marine ecology.  We want them to look beneath the surface and study what can be done to help the Hauraki Gulf.

How are you going to solve this conservation problem?

Our floating laboratory will be like no other.  Students will connect the ESPcat's electronic systems with their smart phones and tablets via a WiFi network.  In addition to monitoring ESPcat's solar panels, batteries and electric motors, the smart devices will connect to marine charts, depth sounders, underwater cameras, water quality instrumentation, wind speed and direction. 

What makes your idea new and unique?

ESPcat will be New Zealand's first, practical solar powered coastal cruiser.  Boat designers and boat builders will be able to see that solar powered boats can replace the fuel guzzling, wave creating, environment destroying conventional power boats.  We plan to make our solar electric propulsion system design available to everyone.  We will change only enough to keep the project going. 

Who will use your idea, and how will they benefit?

ESPcat will be available to as wide a range of people as possible.  We have two areas of focus.  First, our prototype will demonstrate that it is indeed practical to build a solar powered coastal cruiser.   Boat builders and boat designers will be invited on board to learn how they can apply solar-electric propulsion technology as a replacement for fossell fuel burning engines.  Secondly, our floating laboratory will be made available to educational groups giving them a pollution free platform.

What tasks or activities do you need investment for? How would you spend a $25,000 grant?

So far, my wife Gallagher and I have funded the entire prototype ourselves.  We are just about at the end of our self imposed, $36,000 budget and will use the $25,000 to purchase the remaining components for ESPcat.  All our labor is free as is the labor of the volunteers involved in our project.  Follow progress at https://espcatblog.wordpress.com/

Are you a New Zealand citizen or resident?

YES

I have read and agree to the Crowdicity Terms of Use, the Conservation Innovation Awards 2016 Supplemental Terms and Conditions, and the Crowdicity Community Guidelines

YES

List five other ideas posted in the challenge that excite you. Why?

 

1 - Describe more clearly the conservation outcomes and how this project will benefit. First goal - demonstrate the viability of solar powered boats. Second goal - create an education platform to teach conservation.
2 - Will the craft allow a silent approach for monitoring wildlife above the water? Yes, we hope to have almost zero environmental noise impact.
3 - Getting our youth to investigate some of the environmental problems. We will create a set of downloadable student research projects.
4 - interested to know more about the sustainability of your project
We are developing a 25 year plan with 5 solar powered boats.
5 – What about protecting intellectual property?
We will commercialize our IP to create a NZ solar powered boat industry.

 

 

 

 

How could you improve your idea?

 

There are many ways the ESPcat project can be improved.  The one that excites me at the moment is the idea of installing equipment to record and analyse underwater noise pollution. We want it WiFi enabled of course.  I see multiple PHD projects here. We could definitly raise awairness of underwater noise pollution in the Gulf.

edited on Oct 15, 2016 by John Caldwell

Fiona Edwards Oct 6, 2016

Hi - I'm a Conservation Ambassador living in Raglan and I just wanted to say that I love the concept and support what you are trying to achieve with environmental education. I think you need to refocus your application and describe more clearly the conservation outcomes and how this project will benefit community conservation. Good luck

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John Caldwell Oct 7, 2016

Thanks Fiona. Is that any better?

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Fiona Edwards Oct 8, 2016

Is there an specific conservation project you could link the use of the catamaran too? Eg using the vessel for a species or water quality monitoring program or there may be an island conservation project in the Hauraki Gulf that could benefit from the use of your vessel? Environmental education seems to be about awareness raising, not necessarily direct conservation action and outcomes.

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gal caldwell Oct 8, 2016

Hi Fiona,
Our pet project is estuary water quality. We plan to have a system on board to monitor turbidity and possibly other water quality indicators as well. The boat is moored in the Whitford Creek which is very muddy and full of mangroves. We hope to identify the sources of contamination in the Whitford Creek and other similar estuaries and set in motion a cleanup plan. It is all part of my plan to change the world!

By the way, we love Raglan and often drive down for the seafood chowder at the cafe on the water. We have often thought that the harbour would be a perfect place for a solar powered boat like ESPcat. We have heard about the great conservation work you have done in Raglan. It is a magic place.

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Fiona Edwards Oct 8, 2016

In your application, you could describe how you would use the ESPcat to Identify the sources of contamination in the Whitford Creek and set in motion a cleanup plan. Show the advantages of using this platform for monitoring vs other monitoring eg in-water sensors, paddling a kayak around the estuary to take samples etc. What's your unique selling point? e.g ability to download data and analyse onboard, ability to track back to source of contamination in real time, ability to upload results to social media and regulators for action?
Great idea and good luck with your application.

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View all replies (4)

Lee Barry Oct 7, 2016

Hi John - wow, what a commitment you and your wife have made to this project. Renewable-powered water craft seems like a real gap in the market - with electric cars taking off, why not solar boats?! And your passion to get young people onto the water as a learning tool is admirable too. I'm interested to know if your idea will allow people - communities - to be better and more effective at protecting bio-diversity? Will the craft allow a silent approach for monitoring wildlife above the water? Or have less noise impact/disturbance underwater? Or anything else?

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John Caldwell Oct 7, 2016

Hi Miss Lee,
It surely will be quiet but that's not all. One of the interesting things about a solar powered boat is that it has to be hydro dynamically efficient. With a limited amount of sunlight as an energy source, the amount of energy available to drive the hulls through the water is limited. We had to choose the most efficient hulls we could find. Our super-efficient hulls and light weight make the ESPcat slip through the water rather than crashing and plowing its way way along. The impact on the environment should be the minimum possible giving us an excellent opportunity to view the marine environment in an undisturbed way.

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Warren Megget Oct 10, 2016

As a boating safety tutor I applaud your initiative with this idea. Getting our youth to investigate some of the environmental problems facing our marvellous Hauraki Gulf could help to preserve it for future generations to also enjoy. Best of luck with this project.

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John Caldwell Oct 10, 2016

Hi Megsea,
Thanks for the words of encouragement. I was a tutor for a number of years at Manukau Tech. I found that in order to teach people something, you first had to get their attention. Shouting doesn't work but if you can get them interested, that almost always works. We think our project will generate real interest.

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Zoey Henley Oct 11, 2016

Hi John great project and idea - I'm a keen supporter of initiatives that develop young people. I'm interested to know more about the sustainability of your project and your plans to keep the technology and innovation current and on track with conservation best practice - good luck!

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John Caldwell Oct 11, 2016

Hi Zoey,
Coming up with a long term plan is the big challenge. ESPcat will be the prototype for the creation of 5 similar, solar powered floating laboratories. I will either set up a trust or preferably, work with an existing trust to create a 25 year education plan for the Hauraki Gulf. With her focus on environmental sustainability and protection, ESPcat will inspire a new generation of environmental experts who will drive the changes needed for the long term protection of the Gulf.

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Mihai Vasile Oct 11, 2016

Hi John. I work in the field of intellectual property and was wondering if you considered protecting any aspects of your craft.

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John Caldwell Oct 11, 2016

Hello Mihai,
Yes we have considered IP protection. There are two key parts to our IP and they are both software related. The first part of the software IP relates to the lithium-ion battery charging algorithm. The second part relates to on-line maintenance of the solar electrical system. We plan to protect our software IP with a combination of secrecy and copyright law. For our small organization, patent protection would not be cost effective.

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John Kiwi Oct 12, 2016

As an engineer I am always looking for energy saving ideas. I have had solar powered hot water for years and recently have been collecting rain water for the garden etc.
I have done a lot of yachting and love the feeling of movement by sail power alone.
So I admire John for the concept of taking the power of the sun to power his craft.
The clean exhaustless power system is less polluting and the quietness of electric motors is also a plus.
So carry on the good work!

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John Caldwell Oct 12, 2016

Hi John,
Thanks for those interesting thoughts. I have done a fair bit of yachting myself. I love the feeling of moving along quietly under the power of the wind; only thrashing around in the Colville Channel with too much sail up is not so great. I plan to make solar powered propulsion technology available to New Zealand boat designers, at an affordable price. I plan for the development of solar powered boats to keep pace with the development of electric cars. Maybe we can study the effect of engine noise on marine life in the Hauraki Gulf from our quiet solar-electric platform. I heard on Radio New Zealand today that there is such a thing as a marine "dawn chorus". Wouldn't it be great to listen to that. http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blog...wn-chorus-birds

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Steve Wiig Oct 12, 2016

I would be interested to know what rate of knots / boat speed you hope to achieve and if that might limit the type of sea/weather conditions you could venture out in?

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John Caldwell Oct 12, 2016

Hi Steve,
ESPcat will cruise at 7 knots in a 15 knot headwind with her 10 kw motors running at 4 kw. With her motors at 4kw, she will still make 3.7 knots in a 33 knot gale headwind. ESPcat will be considerably more seaworthy than many coastal cruisers running around the Gulf. Having said that, I wouldn't take her to Fiji.

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mhm Oct 12, 2016

Hi John - Looks a great project. I was just wondering what sort of battery power you will be using and how these will be re-charged.

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John Caldwell Oct 12, 2016

Hi MHM,
We will have two lithium-ion batteries, one for each electric outboard. Each battery is 48 volt, 400 Ah. That should give us 4.5 hours of battery life with the motors running at 4kw. Batteries are charged by a 5.2 kw solar array consisting of 26 semi flexible panels, each producing 200 W. Under normal conditions cruising around the Gulf, ESPcat should never run flat.

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Christopher Wingate Oct 13, 2016

I am hoping to get your support to vote for Dr Maggie Evans who until I intervened only had 2 votes. Her work is critical science to help save critically endangered birds such as the Kakapo. Please take a look and lets all give her our support. We are all in this together. Cheers- https://wwf-nz.crowdicity.com/post/285779

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AaronT Oct 14, 2016

Great concept, demonstrated dedication, and the potential for multiple positive outcomes. This is looking ahead; you have my vote.

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John Caldwell 11 months ago

Thanks for encouragement Aaron. Still progressing.

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